By Rumi Khan
Mr. Claudius Bancroft let his eyes slowly close shut as he rubbed his aching temple. It was a regular habit of his and he knew that in the coming months he would have to become even more familiar with the precise creases on his balding forehead. He had just got off the phone with a particularly frustrating subordinate who had filled his ears with this demand and that reminder, a flurry of items that should have been more efficiently delivered on a checklist or an email. Phone calls were such a waste of valuable time to Mr. Bancroft, and he’d rather spend his limited time reading ten comminiques than answering one call. But times could not change as fast to suit his tastes and he was forced to accept this tyrannical waste of time.
He let his eyes wander off outside the window of his car, and let them glaze over the familiar sights: streets of neat, identical suburban houses, with perfectly trimmed lawns and delightful little mailboxes. For at least one night, he figured, he could forget about the schedules and stresses. He relaxed his shoulders, sunk into his leather seat and asked his chauffeur to turn the radio to something classical. Then he popped a small red pill and let the blur of duplicated homes lull him to sleep.
Within three hours, Mr. Bancroft’s car had reached its destination. As his chauffeur pulled up to the curb and Mr. Bancroft looked outside the window, he felt himself almost overwhelmed by nostalgia. His old family home, in all of its simplicity, seemed almost surreally out of place in the last 70 years of his life. It was a modest home, with three stories. It had a slanted, tiled roof and was made out of drywall with an adjacent garage and driveway, as was the typical fashion in the era. Mr. Bancroft smiled warmly as he remembered his joyous days of youth, playing video games, listening to audiobooks, enjoying the summer air and even spending far too much time on schoolwork.
“Is this the destination, Sir?” his chauffeur asked.
“Indeed it is. Looks just as I remembered it.” Bancroft responded.
“Very well. Enjoy your day Mr. Bancroft,” the chauffeur said. Mr. Bancroft cringed at the abrupt audio transition from the pre-programmed audio to his last name. When will they manage to get realistic sounding human voices for these things?
He left his car and carefully climbed up the driveway to the house, his trenchcoat blown back by the cold summer winds. Purchasing this house required jumping through more than a few hoops, but it was more than worth the effort. As he thought through the effort, he couldn’t help but savor his smile. His home had been foreclosed in the Great Recession, but now he was back. Little Claudius was now everything his parents could have imagined. Rich, successful and the Chief Executive Officer of Chevron-Mobil, he had finally purchased his home and restored it to is rightful owner. And now, he had compelled the entire energy industry to hold the National Energy Conference here, in his hometown! He had left his kingdom a refugee and returned a God! He imagined that this must have been how Alexander the Great must have felt when he gazed upon his great empire on map of the ancient world. He had won life, and this upcoming week would be his glorious victory lap. The glory of the moment was enough to overwrite any momentary back pains and headaches that had plagued him. Now, at least for this final day before the conference began, it would be time to enjoy his victory.
He briskly walked up to the front door and fumbled with the physical keys required to open the door. Before he could get the darn thing to work, the door swung open, and he was greeted by open arms.
His daughter, Serena, gave her father a quick hug. After the embrace, she stepped back, and flashed a smile.
“Serena, it’s so good to see you!” Mr. Bancroft beamed. “I see you’ve already made yourself at home,” he said, his voice echoing into the empty entrance. Serena rolled her eyes.
“I just got here earlier today. But that isn’t important. The stuff is in the kitchen,” she said and the two headed into the kitchen, which was dominated by several large boxes, all sealed with tape.
“So this is it, huh?” Serene said. She turned to her father, “Are you sure this is what you want?”
Mr. Bancroft nodded. “This is all I’ll need I think. Some books, old games and enough of the amenities of life for a quiet, modest retirement.”
“Still quite the downgrade from your estate in California. There’s always those digital retirement homes, you know?”
“No,” Mr. Bancroft responded curtly. “I said it once, I’ll say it again. After I set up my and my company’s legacy at this conference, I’m done with this. I want to live out the last decade of my life as it began, living simple and content. Full circle and all.”
“What a beautiful metaphor,” Serena grinned, “Maybe instead of this oil business you should have considered being a poet.”
Mr. Bancroft ignored the comment, and slowly sat down on a small couch in the living room, which shared space with the kitchen. He motioned his hand and the television screen flashed on. He scrolled through the news channels aimlessly, past reports about terrorist attacks, hurricanes and political scandals.
Serena settled down across from him, aimlessly munching on a small processed bar of lettuce. Mr. Bancroft gestured to the news report about a recent terror attack.
“What do you think about the attack on the oil platform? It’s pretty horrific news…” he said, without much sympathy. The attack was on a competitor, after all.
Serena shrugged between bites of lettuce. “It happens. At least nobody died.”
“Uhh… actually the TV just said that nearly 19 people were killed,” he paused and then turned to Serena, “Shouldn’t your people be all over this kind of stuff?” Serena tried her best not to visibly cringe at the term. Her father did not mince words when it came to his distaste to Serena’s people: lawyers. Mr. Bancroft continued with his political rant.
“First it was the Marxists, then the Muslims and then the Fascists.. and now this? Eco-terrorists? Every generation just wants to blow something up in the name of some god-forsaken cause.”
Serena, being younger than her father, disagreed with him on nearly everything politically. “Come on Dad, let’s not talk politics. Why don’t we talk about… maybe fun stories about work or watch a movie. Maybe you can make up for years of parental neglect in the name of professional advancement!” she laughed, but couldn’t help herself but continue, “Plus, people in my generation know that of all those groups, at least the eco-terrorists have a good cause.”
Mr. Bancroft turned and smiled. “Surely you don’t believe those people. Serena, I can tell you as a first-hand member of the industry that we genuinely care about the environment! Why… the future of our whole species would be in jeopardy if we didn’t!”
“Well, if that truly is the case, then maybe you should announce that you plan to dismantle all your oil platforms and all your fracking operations, first thing tomorrow at the conference. And maybe tell the government to stop paying you billions of dollars of subsides that should be going to cleaner energy sources.” Serena responded, in a surprisingly sophisticated manner. Little did her father know, Serena had spent more than a normal amount of time having pretend political debates with him while showering or driving.
“And give up all the energy that our country needs? To defend itself? To keep the lights on? Sure in the past our companies were a bit irresponsible, but now we know that the path forward! We are all following the the 2050 climate goals. What more do you want?” Mr. Bancroft responded, more than a little irked by an argument he had heard over and over again.
“Oh come on, don’t give that irresponsibility crap. Exxon knew about climate threat since the 1970s! It was all a purposeful sabotage of the future!”
“So what do you want me to do, Serena? Get into a time machine and go back? Tell the American people that I’m from the future and they should stop using electricity? Grow up, this is the world we live in, and the one you’ll inherit. Christ, I thought when you started paying taxes you’d grow out of this phase,” Bancroft let out a tired sigh. He got up, shook his head and headed back to the kitchen.
“All I wanted to do with my wealth is to live a good remainder of my life, and let you pick up where I left off. Is that too much to ask? Is my legacy that abhorrent to you?” Bancroft asked, his voice switching from anger to something perhaps a bit more genuine.
Serena was not swayed. She figured she had enough of her own wealth to have the economic (and thus political) independence to say what came to her mind. “All I want is for there to even be a future where your legacy can thrive.”
Mr. Bancroft’s eyes flashed open. The view was blurry, and he raised his hands up to try and make the view somewhat clearer. Within a couple seconds he realized that despite what his mind willed, his hands just did not seem to actually move up. Fortunately, his vision cleared in time, and he could get a good view of where he was.
He was in his childhood room in his house, sitting calmly on a chair perhaps a bit too small for him now. The lights were off, except for a desk lamp which shone directly above his head, which must have been the source of that visual interference. Mr. Bancroft quickly realized he couldn’t move his limbs, seemingly because they were either tied down or paralyzed. He sighed, annoyed at the situation. He always got these troubling sleep paralysis nightmares before a big day, and it seemed tonight would be no exception.
“Allright, whatever nightmarish fiend that’s in store for me tonight, show yourself and get this over with!” he growled. Maybe he could get control of the dream somehow. But soon, his aggressive challenge was answered. The door ominously began to open, and from behind it, Serena emerged. She wore a dark and somewhat intimidating bomber jacket, and her hair was bound by a green bandana.
“Well this is new,” Bancroft murmured. He figured that Freud would have many things to say about the content of this dream
“Hello Father….” Serena said, clearly attempting to be menacing. She pulled up a one of the colored child-sized chairs and sat down in front of Mr. Bancroft.
“Well this is surreal. I like the bandana,” Bancroft said, trying to be somewhat cheerful. Serena raised an eyebrow at the inappropriate response. Bancroft responded with a chuckle, which incensed Serena. She grabbed the desk lamp and bathed Bancroft’s eyes in its beam.
After the pain subsided, Bancroft came upon the horrifying realization that he was not, in fact, in some kind of metaphorical dream. His hands and legs were not paralyzed, but were tied to the chair. His daughter had captured him in his sleep!
As his mind switched from “uninterested acceptance” to “panicked hostage,” he quickly began to take stock of the situation. There was a momentary confusion as to why his daughter had betrayed him in such a surprisingly violent manner, but he figured that was an avenue not worth investigating now. With technology these days, she could be hypnotized or a clone or something… regardless, this betrayal was clearly not worth investing any kind of emotional significance to before the facts could be determined.
Of course, that is what he probably wanted to be thinking in such a situation. But no one can ever be that rational. So instead he let out a confused and rather unimpressive whimper: “Why?”
Serena looked slightly concerned for a second, but quickly shook it off. “Because it must be done,” she said matter-of-factly.
“So you were a member of that eco-terror group after all..” Mr. Bancroft said softly. He looked up, tears in his eyes. “Then do what you must. I know what your kind does to people like me.”
Serene looked at him blankly. She began to put on a pair of latex gloves, and pulled out a small purse. As she was digging through it, Bancroft continued.
“We gave up everything for you! Your mother quit her job… I tried my best to spend every waking second that wasn’t at work for you. I gave you everything I could! How could you.. Please.. Serena… don’t do this..” She continued to interact with the two large bottles of fluid, and in front of Mr. Bancroft, began to mix them quickly until she finally give them a quick shake. Mr. Bancroft felt his life slipping from his grasp.
“Serena! If it weren’t for my donations, you wouldn’t have gotten to the university that got you your job! If it weren’t for my sacrifices, you’d be nothing! Nothing you hear me! Stop this at once! Without my name, you’re nothing!” Serena glared at him, without saying a thing.
“I can’t believe they got you. I always thought you were smarter than this! I thought you were better than this! If you’re going to kill me, just get it over with!”
“Just you?” Serena said, breaking her silence. “All across this town, executives from every company are waking up, strapped in chairs, to someone wielding a needle. This is much bigger than you, father.”
Mr. Bancroft’s face began to pale in the harsh light. He felt his wrinkled skin shrivel around his body, as if the skin knew it was on a sinking ship. “You’re… you’re going to kill everyone? Serena, how will you answer to these crimes when you are judged. You can’t do this, don’t you see how wrong this is?” Serena ignored his desperate begging for his life. She drained the serum into the needle, and stepped menacingly towards her old man, bound to the chair. From her perspective, she stood over a shriveled, feeble corpse, whose eyes were mere slits and skin almost dust-like. If there was any hesitation in what she was doing, she did not show it.
“The company that developed this concoction is the same that you got your quasi-legal publicly-unavailable sleeping pills. You know, that experimental biotech company?”
Mr. Bancroft knew of the company, but did not indicate it.
“It was really hard to get a sample of this and it’ll still be several decades before it even comes close to public knowledge, but I am told that it only requires one large dose and has yet to fail in trial testing. I suppose we’ll find out if their scientists were right,” Serena grinned, and she stepped towards Mr. Bancroft. In a swift motion, her arm snapped back and she plunged the syringe deep into his arm. He let out a muffled cry.
“Father.. Try not to die on me yet. We still need you ready for keynote speech at the conference in a couple hours,” Serena said, as she slowly knelt down to untie the knots.
Once the serum entered his bloodstream, Mr. Bancroft was overwhelmed at once. The first thing he noticed was the noise. All around him, he heard so many things. The sound of a rattling air conditioning unit, the sounds of the wind battering against the walls of the house, the mumbling from the television downstairs. Then, he noticed his breathing. It was fast, yet steady, and he felt his heart beat stronger than it had ever before. There was a rush of adrenaline and for about half a second he felt like he was falling down some great chasm. All of his skin almost tightened around him and he felt a scratching sensation on his scalp. Finally, he realized that that pounding, aching feeling in his forehead was gone. He reached his now free hands to his head to check his temple, and felt something he had not felt for decades.
He looked up at Serena, his hands shaking not for any biological reason anymore.
“What… what have you done to me? What was in that syringe?” he said in the clearest voice he could. Serena folded her arms and couldn’t help but giving a small laugh.
“It appears that defeating death will be the next great luxury for people like you and me, Dad. Now my future is your future.”
A tall, handsome and broad-shouldered man stepped up onto the stage. He waved at an assistant and gave them a thumbs up, before striding confidently towards the center of the stage, radiating vitality and enthusiasm. This man’s full head of hair had been carefully styled. He was clean shaven, and his eyes shone with brilliant attentiveness. This man had no wrinkles on his face, and he looked to an audience of men and women whose faces too beamed with youth.
To thunderous and sympathetic applause, Mr. Claudius Bancroft announced that the future mandated an immediate, authoritative and vigorous pivot to clean and renewable energy